Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Song of the Week: Bella Notte

I'm only a bit embarrassed to select the following as my song of the week. Taken from Disney's Lady and the Tramp, and reincarnated this week by the mighty Fox Network's Glee, our song of the week underscores the inner sappiness of yours truly.

Bella Notte first graced audiences ears in the 1955 animated classic Lady and the Tramp. The nostalgic among us may recall the music and the scene where Lady and the Tramp share their first kiss over spaghetti.

Immediately, the music and the image became iconic, setting unrealistic romantic expectations for generations.

Despite, it's rather famous provenance, the song has not enjoyed great commercial success. A part of the song's history is a protracted legal battle in which recording artist Peggy Lee sued Disney over the rights to the song when it began marketing VHS cassettes in the late 80s. It's really a shame. A cover of the song by Dean Martin or Frank Sinatra would have been amazing.

As if to make up for is scant performance history, the song made an appearance recently on the hit show Glee as a part of the series season finale set in New York, New York. The scene in the program tries to capture a similar romantic vignette between the punctilious Rachel Berry and former star quarterback, now glee club member Finn Hudson. For those who care, Rollingstone has a summary of the episode here.

I've only seen two episodes of Glee, but the cast's performance of the song was just terrific. The music is romantic just as a New York evening should be, while the lyrics typify a forthright ode to enchantment itself. Sung by a men's quartet, everything from the harmony to the tempo is perfect about this song. When the performance concluded, I had cold chills. It's just that stunning.

I've embedded the Glee performance of the song below. A music only version can be found here, and here. Lyrics follow after the jump. Enjoy!

Bella Notte
As performed by the Cast of Glee

Oh, this is the night
It's a beautiful night
And we call it bella notte

Look at the skies
They have stars in their eyes 
On this lovely bella notte

Side by side with your loved one
You'll find enchantment here

The night will weave it's magic spell
When the one you love is near

Oh this is the night and heavens are right 
On this lovely bella notte

This is the night
It's a beautiful night
And they call it bella notte

Look at the skies
They have stars in their eyes 
On this lovely belle notte

Side by side with your loved one
You'll find enchantment here

The night will weave it's magic spell
When the one you love is near

Oh this is the night and heavens are right 
On this lovely bella notte

Monday, May 23, 2011

First Bike Ride in Tucson

I just completed my first spin around Tucson on the new bike. Seeing as it's a balmy 93 degrees today with a chance of rain, one might rightly question the wisdom of such a trip.

Most of my morning was spent fighting with the u-lock mount on the Kryptonite lock I bought. Once this was completed, I did battle with the bike computer I picked up to track my stats. The remainder of my morning was spent selecting a route and praying I didn't have a flat.

Interestingly, the challenging part of the route was the straightaway a long Mountain Avenue. For those not from Tucson, the street is a fairly wide boulevard with a huge bike lane on either side. It's also incredibly flat so there was a lot of opportunity for me to build my calf and hamstring muscles, pedaling for some 3.5 miles.

Seeing as the most active thing I've done in months is play Call of Duty, I was naturally pretty exhausted by the time I reached the Student Union.

Tory s Bike Route

I didn't have the courage to snap photos along the route, but I did capture a few stills of my stats once I sat down here in the Student Union.They'll be laughable to anyone who is an experienced rider. But given that it was my first ride in Tucson, and given that I had no idea where I was going, it didn't turn out too bad.

I'm alive at any rate. All's well that ends well.The trip took only about twice as long as it would have by car. Door to door, the whole it took me 53 minutes, this presumably includes having to stop twice along the way to consult Google Maps.

Photo May 23 1 21 48 PM My top speed was 19.4 miles per hours. I achieved this feat as I descended a one of the many scary hills in between Skyline and River Road. Only a couple of hills were scary. Mostly, the foothill neighborhoods were just confusing. I may need to rethink this leg of the trip.

Photo May 23 1 25 27 PM The route covered some 8.9 miles from my front door to the bike racks outside the Union. Photo May 23 1 22 13 PM In all, not a bad afternoon. I plan to get some research done now, before making the trek north. I enjoyed the bike's simple functionality, and the fact that I can take a very purposefully trip on it within the time frame it would normally take me otherwise.

The hard part, of course, will be the trip home, which is basically all up hill...

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Why I Chose to Cycle

After many weeks of hemming and hawing, I finally decided to take the plunge and give commuting by bicycle a shot.

The move is purely pragmatic, so let not your hearts be troubled. I won't be buying organic or driving a hybrid anytime soon. Neither action will save the planet anyway.

Photo May 18 2 36 33 PM

So Why Cycle?

With gasoline, nigh, $4 per gallon, and but a lone pick up truck between me and the wife, cycling seemed like a reasonably inexpensive alternative form of transportation. Whether this proves true is a separate matter. More on this later.

I realize that I'm not alone in this regard. According to USA Today, bike sales are booming across the country, while even the fattest, and laziest among us succumb to the evil that is big oil.

Interestingly, this sales spike translates into only a modest increase in actual cycling. But at least we haven't gone the way of the Brits. One in six of their poor, little prats can't ride a bicycle at all. God bless America.

A second reason I wanted to give cycling the old college try is a matter of simple exercise. After spending the past few weeks on exams, and traveling, it's safe to say I could stand to "get back in shape" - which is really just a polite way of saying that I need to lose some weight.

The problem is that I'm generally not fond of exercise. While I am a thumb warrior on Call of Duty (5th prestige!), my L.A. Fitness membership has gone unused since about November. Being the reasonable chap that I am, I figured if I can incorporate exercise/fitness into my routine, then I might be less inclined to hate it. Enter cycling, and my seven mile commute.

UA Bike Path

Last, I am curious to see what all the fuss is about. Tucson has dropped a considerable chunk of change on its bicycle infrastructure. But, as Andy Clarke, President of the League of American Bicyclists noted, much of this is used by lycra-clad cyclists, sporting $3,000 bikes. And poor students. Given that my own foray is somewhat by choice (like my lycra-clad friends), and somewhat of necessity (like my colleagues at the U of A), I'm curious to see how friendly Tucson, and its drivers are to cyclists who ride for commuting purposes rather than recreation.

To be sure, I realize the severe weaknesses of this plan.

For starters, this is the hottest time of the year to begin two-wheeling around town. In fact, I have it on good authority that there are coals in hell next to the Devil himself (or herself) that are cooler than Tucson is during July.

Second, I've never done this before. Given that local cyclists have annual "Rides of Silence" for cyclists who have been killed by cars, maybe Tucson isn't the safest place to learn how to commute by bicycle.

Last, I'm not sure that cycling is actually a less expensive way to get around town. At least not so far.

But life is what happens while you're doing something else, and the benefits seem to out weight the costs, so away we go.

My Bike

Readers may recall that I had a lengthy dilemma in deciding whether to bike at all (see here, and here), and ultimately a separate dilemma regarding what bike to buy (see here).

I wanted something that looked vintage and minimalist, that could navigate the hilly terrain near my house, that could handle a 7+ mile commute - all on the budget of a poor graduate student.

After visits to local bike shops, and BICAS, I discovered that the nice bikes were out of my price range, while the rebuilt bikes did not meet my terrain and distance needs.

Brief aside, this is really quite a good argument for some entrepreneur to open up a used bike shop, selling refurbished, reasonably priced bikes. I'm not sure I'm that person. But for those looking to make money, the idea is yours, gratis.

Super Pawn

In the end, I'm a bit embarrassed to say that my journey took me to Cash America's Super Pawn Shop where a source from BICAS told me that they had road bikes for sale at half-off.

The pawn shop seemed a bit sketchy. But, being the cheap bastard that I am, even this did not subsume my desire to find a bargain.

And, sure enough, I found my bike nestled among a throng of bicycles outside the shop, all marked at half-off. For the curious, they also sell gold!

My steed ended up being a 2009 Schwinn Fastback with Shimano derailleurs and brakes, and a super light, aluminum frame. It cost me all of $67 thanks to the good folks at Super Pawn. The bike normally retails for $432.08 on Amazon, and $499.99 on Ebay, meaning I saved either $365.08 or $432.99 - but who's counting.

Schwinn Fastback 2009

What makes me question the cost effectiveness of cycling, however, is the money I spent getting my bike road-ready.

I should say from the outset, that I am not complaining about the actual prices. I took my bike immediately from the pawn shop to There and Back Bicycles to let owner Steve Vihel take a shot at fixing it up. Steve did a great job, and charged eminently reasonable prices for all of his services. But the bike just needed lots of fixing up.

The biggest cost was an Velo Orange Saddle, made of Australian cowhide, with a chrome-plated rail finish. The saddle, its attendant care products, seat cover, seat leash, and the brown bar wrap I bought for the handlebars to match the saddle ran $125.96.

Saddle model 1 1This was, absolutely, not a necessity. While I settled for a newer road bike, I still wanted something that looked somewhat like a classic, vintage bike. As you can see from the living room photo at the top, I think it turned out quite well.

The total cost for a mechanical tune-up, and bike maintenance, ended up being less than $200 - and this included the cost of a new tire, tune-up, new cables, new tubes, housing, installation, and labor. I also had two, additional final expenses for a Kryptonite Kryptolok Mini U Lock, and a 7ft Sunlite Cable. After all, it would be a shame to have my bike stolen after all of Steve's effort.

My complaint about the cost effectiveness is really about the upfront cost that I had to spend on the bike. The initial purchase was $67, but with the saddle and maintenance factored in, the entire bike ended up costing some $366.99. In sum, my quibble is that the maintenance costs, and upgrades I made were 5x's the price that I originally paid for the bike.

But, even this expenditure was less than what I would have paid retail for a brand new Schwinn on Amazon, and a new bike wouldn't be nearly so cool. Although, I still need to buy a helmet, a mini air pump, extra tubes in case of a flat, and lights.


I'm still pressed to finish my exams, having left in the middle of them to return to Oklahoma and be with my sister last week. So, I hope to take the bike for a proper spin over the weekend - once I acquire a helmet, lights, etc.

Right now, I'm a little disappointed in the upfront costs associated with cycling. I was elated to spend $67 on the bike. I was less than elated at spending five times that amount to get it road-ready. Maybe I will earn back my investment over time?

Mostly, I am excited to see what it's like to commute around Tucson. I've spent the past few years mocking cyclists, and the past few weeks trying to learn basic traffic rules for bikes. It's been quite the turn around.

I guess I see this going two ways. I'll either love it - for all of the reasons people love bikes. Or I'll hate it - for all the reasons people hate bikes. I understand this isn't terribly insightful. But it does reflect that commuters are rarely ambivalent about sharing the road bicycles.

I assume this will be a running category of posts, so stay tuned for updates!


© Pax Plena
Maira Gall